Do Movies Without Best Director Nods Ever Win Best Picture?

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 10 2013 3:59 PM

Do Films Without Best Director Nods Ever Win Best Picture?

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Ben Affleck was passed over by the Academy for his directorial work

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images For Palm Springs Film Festival

The most surprising snubs of this year’s Oscar race are in the directing category: Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), both considered shoo-ins for nominations, were shut out. Affleck and Bigelow can at least celebrate their nods for Best Picture—but Lincoln, with 12 nominations, has become the prohibitive favorite to win that one now. What are the odds that a movie that is not nominated for Best Director will win Best Picture?

Very, very low. Only three films in the Oscar’s past 84 ceremonies have won Best Picture without having been nominated for Best Director as well. The last time this happened was in 1990, when Driving Miss Daisy won the big prize even though Bruce Beresford was not honored at all for his directorial work. For the other two examples, you have to go back a full 70 years: Wings won Best Picture at the first Academy Awards in 1929, though William A. Wellman was passed over in the directing category, and Grand Hotel won in 1932, though director Edmund Goulding was not nominated.

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Garnering a Best Picture nomination without a directing nod is fairly common—especially so in the last few years, as the former category has expanded to include up to 10 candidates, while the latter has stayed at the standard five. But so far the winners in the former category continue to be the ones that show up in the latter as well.

Argo and Zero Dark Thirty were at least nominated for Best Editing, another category often seen as a prerequisite for a Best Picture win: Since Chariots of Fire (1982), every Best Picture winner has at least made an appearance in the category. Also nominated for Best Editing this year? Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook, two other Best Picture contenders that also received nominations for their directors (Ang Lee and David O. Russell, respectively). One could make the argument that those two films, rather than previous favorites Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, now have the best shot at toppling Lincoln.

What is indisputable, though, is that Lincoln has become the one to beat.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.